How to look at a something

How to look at a painting by Justin Paton
How to look at a painting by Justin Paton has just been republished in hardback. Which is a supreme compliment to an author: graduating to hardback means The People (or Awa Press, the publisher) believe this book is a keeper. One to reread and lend and jealously reclaim.

They're right, it's a little beaut. The 2006 Montana Book Award for Contemporary Culture and three pages of accolades from 22 reviewers underline this fact.

I love the way Paton does actually give lots of tips about how to look at a painting. This isn't just another art critique in disguise.

How to look at a painting? If I thought I could get away with it, I would have answered that question with one word: slowly.

That's a great start. People shuffle past famous paintings in solemn queues, gallop around galleries in pursuit of a personal best, adopt instant karate poses to defend themselves against art, attend gallery openings for the wine and gossip, or are blind to the painting right under their nose. So slowly is salutary advice.

Paton describes a fully kinetic and human involvement with paintings. He walks the length of a big one, squints at some up close, dives in, gets looked at by them, and spends quality time with them. And he gives us permission — no, he instructs us — to notice the obvious: respect the thing. For example, a whopping wooden board sends a different message from a flimsy piece of paper. If the frame dominates, that's a big deal too.

Paton bubbles over with enthusiasm. This is fun! Which is not the run of the mill attitude to art. Many are frightened of art, think of it as an enemy to be overcome. They think an opinion is required, and their opinion is worth nothing, and they'll look like an idiot. So this might be Paton's most liberating tip:

When looking at a painting, before answering the question 'What do I think' try 'What did I notice?' No opinions without observations.

Hm. Cool. We can all do that.

So, how to look at a web page? Most of the time, quickly. Very quickly. Do it like you do already, hunting for the information you need. If you find what you need almost immediately, the look and feel don't interfere with your search, that's a good web page.

That would be a very short book. Appropriate, don't you think?

P.S. Exceptions, exceptions. They are myriad. I mean web sites that you do want to look at slowly. Waste all day on them. They're about art: no coincidence.
Over the net and on the table
Local: Amsterdam Souvenirs
Postcard from Puniho
The Doing wire netting chair

Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine


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